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September 22nd, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Different Takes: Should we abandon idea of hell?

Editor’s note: The new documentary "Hellbound?" explores Americans' ideas about hell. We asked two prominent Christians who featured in the film to give us their very different takes on hell.

My Faith: The dangerous effects of believing in hell

Editor’s note: Frank Schaeffer is a New York Times bestselling author. His latest book is "Crazy For God."

By Frank Schaeffer, Special to CNN

Is it any coincidence that the latest war of religion that started on September 11, 2001, is being fought primarily between the United States and the Islamic world? It just so happens that no subgroups of humanity are more ingrained with the doctrine of hell than conservative Muslims and conservative Christians.

And nowhere on earth have conservative Christians been closer to controlling foreign policy than here in the United States. And nowhere on earth have conservative Muslims been more dominant than in the countries from which the 9/11 extremists originated – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

What a pair George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden made! On the one hand, an American president who was a born-again evangelical with a special "heart" for the state of Israel and its importance to the so-called end times, and on the other hand a terrorist leader who believed that he was serving God by ridding the Arabian Peninsula of an American presence and cleansing the "defiled" land of Palestine of what he believed were “invader Jews.”

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So whether you're an atheist or not, the issue of who's going to hell or not matters because there are a lot of folks on this planet – many of them extraordinarily well-armed - from born-again American military personnel to Muslim fanatics, who seriously believe that God smiles upon them when they send their enemies to hell.

And so my view of "hell" encompasses two things: First, the theological question about whether a land of eternal suffering exists as God's "great plan" for most of humanity.

Second, the question of the political implications of having a huge chunk of humanity believe in damnation for those who disagree with their theology, politics and culture, as if somehow simply killing one's enemies is not enough.

What most people don't know is that there's another thread running through both Christianity and Islam that is far more merciful than the fundamentalists’ take on salvation, judgment and damnation.

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Paradise, which Muslims believe is the final destination of the society of God’s choice, is referred to in the Quran as "the home of peace"

“Our God,” Muslims are asked to recite, “You are peace, and peace is from You.”

Since Christianity is my tradition, I can say more about it. One view of God - the more fundamentalist view - is of a retributive God just itching to punish those who "stray."

The other equally ancient view, going right back into the New Testament era, is of an all-forgiving God who in the person of Jesus Christ ended the era of scapegoat sacrifice, retribution and punishment forever.

As Jesus said on the cross: "Forgive them for they know not what they do."

That redemptive view holds that far from God being a retributive God seeking justice, God is a merciful father who loves all his children equally. This is the less-known view today because fundamentalists - through televangelists and others - have been so loud and dominant in North American culture.

But for all that, this redemptive view is no less real.

Why does our view of hell matter? Because believers in hell believe in revenge. And according to brain chemistry studies, taking revenge and nurturing resentment is a major source of life-destroying stress.

For a profound exploration of the madness caused by embracing the “justice” of “godly” revenge and retribution, watch the film “Hellbound?”

The film shows how the "hell" of revenge thinking, and the resulting unhinging of some people’s brains through their denial of human empathy, leads them to relish the violent future of suffering that they predict awaits the “lost” in hell.

Do we really want to go back to a time of literalistic religion. Wasn’t 9/11 enough of an argument against retributive religion?

We need “hell” like a hole in the head. It’s time for the alternative of empathetic merciful religion to be understood.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frank Schaeffer.

My Faith: Hell is for real and Jesus is the only way out

Editor's Note: Mark Driscoll is founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

By Mark Driscoll, Special to CNN

As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth. Your job is to make a decision.

When controversies over biblical doctrines arise, it’s a humbling opportunity to answer questions about what the Bible teaches without getting into name-calling and mudslinging. Near the very top of the controversial doctrines is hell.

What happens when we die?

Human beings were created by God with both a physical body and a spiritual soul. When someone dies, their body goes into the grave and their spirit goes into an afterlife to face judgment.

But death is not normal or natural—it’s an enemy and the consequence of sin.

Think of it in this way: God is the source of life. When we choose to live independently of God and rebelliously against God it is akin to unplugging something from its power source. It begins to lose power until it eventually dies.

The Bible is clear that one day there will be a bodily resurrection for everyone, to either eternal salvation in heaven or eternal condemnation in hell.

Christians believe a person’s eternal status depends on their relationship with Jesus and that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Our lives are shaped by the reality that “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

What does Jesus say about hell?

Jesus was emphatically clear on the subject of hell. He alone has risen from death and knows what awaits us on the other side of this life. A day of judgment is coming when all of us — even you — will rise from our graves and stand before him for eternal sentencing to either worshiping in his kingdom or suffering in his hell.

The Bible could not be clearer: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

These are not just obscure Bible verses. In fact, Jesus talks about hell more than anyone else in Scripture. Amazingly, 13% of his sayings are about hell and judgment, and more than half of his parables relate to the eternal judgment of sinners.

Keep in mind that Jesus’ words come in the context of the rest of Scripture, which says that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Furthermore, he “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

God is far more loving, kind and patient with his enemies than we are with our enemies.

What does the rest of the Bible say about hell?

The Bible gives us many descriptions of hell including (1) fire; (2) darkness; (3) punishment; (4) exclusion from God’s presence; (5) restlessness; (6) second death; and (7) weeping and gnashing of teeth in agony.

A common misperception of Satan is that he’s in a red suit, holding a pitchfork at the gates of hell. But Satan will not[j1]  reign there. Hell is a place of punishment that God prepared for the devil and his angels, and it’s where those who live apart from God will, according to Revelation:

. . . drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb [Jesus Christ]. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night.

At the end of the age, the devil will be “thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

Hell will be ruled over by Jesus, and everyone present — humans and demons and Satan alike — will be tormented there continually in perfect justice.

Jesus says, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. ... And these will go away into eternal punishment.”

Is there a second chance after death?

The Bible is clear that we die once and are then judged without any second chance at salvation. As one clear example, Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

We live. We die. We face judgment. Period.

How long does the punishment last?

Some argue that the punishment of sinners is not eternal, a view called annihilationism. This means that after someone dies apart from Jesus, they suffer for a while and then simply cease to exist.

Annihilationism is simply not what the Bible teaches. Daniel 12:2 says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Jesus speaks of those who “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Grammatically, there is no difference here between the length of time mentioned for “life” and that for “punishment”; rather, there is simply eternal life and eternal death.

Am I going to hell?

The good news is that the closing verses of the Bible say, “Come!” Everyone is invited to receive the free gift of God’s saving grace in Jesus. Jesus is God become a man to reconcile mankind to God.

He lived the sinless life we have not lived, died a substitutionary death on the cross for our sins. He endured our wrath, rose to conquer our enemies of sin and death, and ascended to heaven where he is ruling as Lord over all today. He did this all in love.

The stark reality is this: either Jesus suffered for your sins to rescue you from hell, or you will suffer for your sins in hell. These are the only two options and you have an eternal decision to make.

My hope and prayer is that you would become a Christian.

Have you confessed your sins to Jesus Christ, seeking forgiveness and salvation?

If not, you are hellbound, and there is no clever scholar who will be of any help when you stand before Jesus Christ for judgment. You’re not required to like hell as much as you need to believe in it, turn from your sin, trust in Jesus, and be saved from an eternal death into an eternal life.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Driscoll.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Devil • My Faith • Opinion

soundoff (7,963 Responses)
  1. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    You Abrahamic believers love having us Atheists on "your" belief blog, & here's why. The Abrahamic belief system is based on lifting up the persecuted. The incredibly vast overwhelming majority of you believers out there are not persecuted in any real way shape or form and need some (even contrived) form of persecution to feel like you can relate to your faith. We Atheists do you a great service in fulfilling your desperate need to feel persecuted. You're welcome!

    September 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  2. dan

    ATTENTION CHRISTIANS...... You might want to research your own religion. Easter – pagan holiday, christmas – pagan holiday.

    google it.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Raed

      the Bible is written thousands of years before google

      September 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      Asking a believer to research is like asking a murderer to surrender himself and confess.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • dan

      I'm an idiot. You can google that, too.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  3. Raed

    Mark from Seattle is saying the truth, people who believe in the Son of God will live, and people who do not believe will experience the wrath of God (eternal death)

    September 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Oh No .. not "eternal" death, that's so much worse than regular death.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  4. Art

    "Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man… living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you and he needs money." George Carlin

    September 23, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  5. Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

    Since this message will undoubtedly be removed by the pathetic owner of this blog, it seems rather pointless to post it.

    I will anyway. You, sir, are a coward. I see you delete all messages of real truth, the ones that deny your comic book superhero exists. You are simply too weak to deal with it. You believe in fairy tales which have no proof, not one iota, and wish the enslave those of us who do not believe your silly nonsense. You are black to the core.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • GAW

      Don't get too paranoid. There is probably no administrator working to delete offensive posts (There are plenty here already to offend the believer and nonbeliever alike) Certain words (mostly expletives) may trigger filters which will delete posts or a host of other reasons.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      Sorry, mate, but I've seen all of my posts summarily disappear previously. We're not talking about expletives, either. I posted here last week, maybe 10 or 12 posts, and every single one of them was gone within 15 minutes.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  6. ravenfaust

    what is this is our hell, lookm at the sings around us its war , anger hate etc. That seems like hell to me, Suffering etc. We go through these trials and tribulations to see how well we do so in the next life our fate is easier.. i dont know, but thats my take

    September 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  7. Fn0rdz

    Eternal torment in the presence of Jesus and the angels. This is "perfect justice"? Perhaps a hundred years (at most) of rebelling against god, and this is his idea of "perfect justice"? Seriously?

    September 23, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  8. Fn0rdz

    Eternal torment in the presence of Jesus and the angels. This is "perfect justice"? Perhaps

    September 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  9. Tr1Xen

    Wow... I'll bet this article ticks devout Christians off... at least a little, anyhow.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  10. tony

    Just think! If the Israelites had crucified a well known preaching atheist instead, what a wonderful peaceful world we would have now.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  11. Rainer Braendlein

    The idea of hell is even quite rational, it is not only a matter of faith:

    Imagine any ordinary American citizen who repeatedly committs crimes. What will happen? His life will become a hell on earth because he will always be hunted by the authority. And even he would interrupt his wrongdoing for a while the policemen would still always visit him when ever a crime had occured close by him.

    If you have done wrong for a long time even ordinary human beings say that you are incorrigible, and should be jailed for ever.

    Conclusion: When even the secular society to which we all belong condems stubborn wrongdoers, why should it be so hard to imagine that God does the same?

    http://confessingchurch.wordpress.com

    September 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • tony

      Easy if you are stupid. Worthwhile if you are a religious leader depending on collection plates for your income.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Rainer Braendlein", but all of your assertions are unfounded. The degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is 0.0. To help you understand the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements, I will access my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE). Using my IEE module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do..... Who You Can Turn to.....
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      September 23, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      "why should it be so hard to imagine that God does the same?"

      Imagining is all you have, because your 'god' is a figment of your imagination.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Thought "crimes" would only be punished by evil dictators. It is not rational and certainly not moral.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • dan

      So..... The bilbe was NOT written by jesus himself but a bunch of different people, then another group decided what goes in the bible.

      Yes. It sure is the word of god.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • sam stone

      Really, Rainy?

      I know that English is not your first language, but that is a very poor argument.

      I commit crimes all the time. legality is not synonymous with morality.

      Whether a crime is "wrong" is very subjective.

      Your god is a vindictive, petty pr1ck.

      Get back on your knees

      September 23, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  12. Joey

    Gospel Lk 8:4-15When a large crowd gathered, with people from one town after another
    journeying to Jesus, he spoke in a parable.
    "A sower went out to sow his seed.
    And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path and was trampled,
    and the birds of the sky ate it up.
    Some seed fell on rocky ground, and when it grew,
    it withered for lack of moisture.
    Some seed fell among thorns,
    and the thorns grew with it and choked it.
    And some seed fell on good soil, and when it grew,
    it produced fruit a hundredfold."
    After saying this, he called out,
    "Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear."

    Then his disciples asked him
    what the meaning of this parable might be.
    He answered,
    "Knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God
    has been granted to you;
    but to the rest, they are made known through parables
    so that they may look but not see, and hear but not understand.

    "This is the meaning of the parable.
    The seed is the word of God.
    Those on the path are the ones who have heard,
    but the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts
    that they may not believe and be saved.
    Those on rocky ground are the ones who, when they hear,
    receive the word with joy, but they have no root;
    they believe only for a time and fall away in time of temptation.
    As for the seed that fell among thorns,
    they are the ones who have heard, but as they go along,
    they are choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life,
    and they fail to produce mature fruit.
    But as for the seed that fell on rich soil,
    they are the ones who, when they have heard the word,
    embrace it with a generous and good heart,
    and bear fruit through perseverance."

    September 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • tony

      Genesis 1:14. Astrophysics will update you beyond what's in the old testament.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • One man among many

      Uh, Tony, this is what it really says:
      Then God said, "Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  13. bob

    How odd, that those that don't believe are most bothered by those that do, conscience does exist afterall.
    How do you make an athiest run, merely open the bible, satan rather not discuss the bible, he after all is clearly written in it,and his followers rather not discuss their lack of accountability.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Did that post make sense when you wrote it, boob? Or should we call you "j"?

      September 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      Bothered? If many of the people around you believe in some delusional mythical comic book superhero, it is a just cause for concern.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      "How odd, that those that don't believe are most bothered by those that do, conscience does exist afterall.
      How do you make an athiest run, merely open the bible, satan rather not discuss the bible, he after all is clearly written in it,and his followers rather not discuss their lack of accountability."

      Lol. More ramblings from the disgruntled ex Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. "writer".

      September 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • One man among others

      I find it interesting that the only responses had from the atheist side are rude and nasty, rather than intelligent, objective, and insightful. I have a son that's proclaimed atheist. Provide some objective conversation and you might be taken seriously.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • sam stone

      really, bob? seems to me that evangelists are pretty fvcking interested in what others believe.

      tell you what, bobby, when christian stop trying to deny others' civil rights based on edited, translated bronze age hearsay, come back and talk to me.

      September 23, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • sam stone

      okay, one man......

      seems to us that bob's claim that atheists are the ones that are concerned with what others believe is defeated by the evangelicals, who feel that it is their place to convert those who do not feel the way they do

      frankly, we do not care what others believe.....we are concerned with the the effect their beliefs have on our secular laws. we are concerned about using faith to deny others' their civil rights.

      and, bob's implication that "satan" is behind disbelief is absurd. this is the argument equivalent of a child putting his fingers in his ears and yelling "la la la la.....i can't heeeeeear you".

      this argument implies that bob speaks for god, and anyone who disagrees with him (and, by extension, god) is motivated by an evil force rather than logic and reason.

      September 23, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  14. GAW

    Driscoll as an Evangelical begins all of his assumptions on his belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God. This means he has been unable to address the philosophical and moral issues surrounding hell as well as the historical issues as to how the concept of hell developed. For him and other Evangelicals they will let you ask questions but they just don't want you questioning their answers.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • One man among others

      Nobody ever said you couldn't question them but keep in mind and things in perspective when you ask,-that these people are human and not God or a God and thus are giving you their opinions, which can be like yours or not like yours. I am converted Mormon and trust me, I ask questions of things that don't make sense to me. I've had people in my own church look at me strange like "You really just asked that?" of which I say, yes and I would like someone to give me an honest objective answer, if you can. I tend to stir up the hornet's nest at times when I question things because I think people are afraid to do what you specifically mentioned "questioning people". I'm not afraid to do it because I don't agree 100% which what comes from other's mouths so I question them. I believe in God and Jesus because I believe a higher power must reign over humans. When Satan was cast out of heaven he was given reign over this disaster of a planet we call Earth until the time of the second coming, whenever that it. We humans have proven time and again that we can't even get along with one another. I also believe the Bible is the most confusing book I've ever read. I'm not trying to sway your opinion one way or the other just attempting to give my opinion and a "possible" answer to your question. I may or may not have achieved it.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  15. netanyahu

    September 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  16. Clint

    Headline is no different than saying: Are Aliens real? Two prominent UFOlogists make the case for and against Aliens.

    How does one become a "prominent christian"? Make lots of money? Get lots of attention? Kill lots of people? Make lots of unprovable claims on national television?

    September 23, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  17. ptknight

    Too bad Christians don't really know their Bible, because if they did they would realize that man does NOT have an importal soul. The Bible says ONLY GOD HAS IMMORTALITY. They would read that God breathed in Adam the breath of life, and he BECAME a living soul, NOT that God put an immortal soul in him. Thirdly, they would see near the end of Revelation that HELL IS AN EVENT, NOT A PLACE. It is the destruction of this earth by fire, and then John sees a new earth created when the smoke dies down, lets say. How any Christian can believe a God of love will torture forever those who turn down his love is beyond me. Sure, you can take your favorite texts and skew them to create such a doctrine, but it's one started by Satan in the Garden of Eden, "You shall not surely die" he told Eve, and Christian leaders continue to perpetuate that lie. Just read your Bibles with the guidence of the Holy Spirit, and you'll throw out this evil doctrine.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  18. Happy Shiny Girl!

    Mark Driscoll: "As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth. Your job is to make a decision."

    Sorta like holding a gun to a person's head and saying believe or die?

    That's some decision there.

    Gotta love that free-will thing!

    September 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  19. mdbill

    As a Christian I have always had problems with the concept of hell. I mean how does a 100 years of being a miserable worthless a$$h0le equate to eternal suffering? But what do I know?

    September 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • One one

      Then you don't believe televangelist are going to hell ?

      September 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  20. suziecoyote

    Of course he11 is real!! And so is Santa, the Tooth Fairy and a religious nut who can think his way out of a paper bag.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.